The momentum around gender equality is both a risk and opportunity

Clémence Buchet–Couzy |

recent report published by Equal Measures 2030 revealed that the world is far from achieving gender equality as planned in the 2030 Agenda, despite recent momentum around the issue.

Indeed, in the past ten years, numerous efforts have marked progress in the advancement of gender and peacebuilding. In 2000 the UN adopted its UNSCR 1325 – the Women, Peace and Security Agenda – which was followed by eight other resolutions. Some Member states then adopted National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security, and regional organisations developed their own Women, Peace and Security Agenda, such as the European Union, NATO and the African Union. Both the 2000 Millenium Development Goals and the 2015 Agenda for Sustainable Development included a goal to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.

The EU remains highly engaged on the issue as exemplified by the speech of Federica Mogherini during the Academic Roundtable on Women, Peace and Security on June 25th. (Her speech was read by Ambassador Mari Marinaki because of the absence of the HR/VP due to an emergency.) In her speech she recognises the importance of including women in peace processes notably because “war is always man-made, but peace lasts longer when it is woman-made”. She also acknowledged the work done by the EU with the Gaziantep Women’s Platform in Syria or with policewomen in Afghanistan. She ended by saying that “making women’s voices heard is not enough. If our voices are heard but nothing changes then it does not make such a big difference. It only increases the frustration” – highlighting the importance of acting seriously on gender equality.

However, with the recent rise of populism and far-right political parties in Europe, gender objectives such as those defined in the 2030 Agenda seem ever more difficult to achieve. Far right and populist parties have a negative impact on women’s rights and therefore inhibit current gender efforts, but also erode the gains already made. These parties can have discourses which throw existing rights into question, or even blatantly anti-feminist positions. For instance in 2018, following the #metoo movement, the European Parliament rejected a proposition that all new MEPs follow a mandatory sexual harassment training. The plan was struck down following a far right campaign. Last February, global leaders such as Irina Bokova and Susanna Malcorra launched the Group of Women for Change and Inclusion, where they highlighted the fact that populist parties have contributed to harming women’s rights. One example was the potential negative impact of Brexit on women, as the European laws which protect women’s rights won’t be automatically applicable in the UK after its departure.

There is equally a risk that a certain fatigue may occur, both from women who feel that institutions and countries are not evolving fast enough in their gender work as well as from others who feel they have heard enough about the topic. There is a growing feeling that the work on gender equality is “done” and that gender is not an issue anymore. Despite a sense of urgency to advance gender work it seems that the opposite may happen. While gender rights have become more mainstream in law, there remains a big gap in practice: policies have been adopted, conferences have been organised about gender but it is crucial that we now move beyond the symbolic surface level.

This fatigue was at the core of the annual conference of the NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives, “Integrating Gender Perspective and Accountability, Top-Down versus Bottom-up Approach” (4-7 June 2019). During the conference, a lot of issues were tackled, from the importance of female role models and women in position of leadership, to the crucial role of education in changing attitudes and behaviours. It was very surprising to see women from the audience – including military representatives – who spoke about their feeling of impatience and fatigue concerning gender efforts and the need to move forward on the implementation of NATO policies on gender.

9781138593336During the conference the book NATO, Gender and the Military: Women organising from within was launched. This book studies NATO’s engagement with gender issues and questions NATO as a hegemonic masculine institution. It highlights the fact that gender work is not new for NATO, and that the organisation has long been aware of the importance of including women and of the risks of ignoring them, but it takes quite a long time to see real action. The book reveals the hard work undertaken by women within NATO to advocate for change on gender, and the institutional resistance they encountered.

In order to prevent so-called fatigue from slowing the progress already made, creative initiatives need to take place. For instance, QCEA is currently launching a new project in partnership with the UACES-Gendering EU Studies Research Network. The global objective of this project is to address gender inclusiveness across peace and security institutions, looking in particular at leadership, strategies for overcoming institutional resistance and a lack of knowledge about the connections between gender and peacebuilding.

To that end, three short videos will be published, accompanied with concrete guidelines for people working in these institutions, on the ground as part of military operations and also those acting as gender advisors. The videos will explore three key topics:

  • Why does gender matter?
  • What does gender leadership look like in practice?
  • Overcoming resistance to gender in an operational context

A dedicated webpage will also be created to showcase these resources and reach as many people as possible. This project is one of many initiatives trying to overcome “gender fatigue” and to advance the work of equality, in order to be the change we want to see in the world.

This post originally appeared on the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) blog and is cross-posted with their kind permission.

Clémence Buchet–Couzy is QCEA’s new Peace Programme Assistant